Large crowd at public hearing pits moms and doctors vs. Governor and chemical industry
Experts highlight strong science and availability of safer alternatives
Augusta - The message from parents, physicians, scientists, and health advocates was loud and clear on Wednesday: get toxic BPA out of children's food. The Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard from dozens of testifiers on LP 902, a rule that would phase-out the use of BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging.
"No child should be exposed to toxic chemicals like BPA at the dinner table, and no parent should have to worry that the food they give their children is unsafe," stated Annie Colaluca, a mother of three from Waterville and one of the many parents who travelled to Augusta to testify. "The science is clear - BPA is dangerous; our children are exposed; and safer alternatives are available. There's absolutely no reason to delay."
Last year a group of moms delivered over 800 petitions from Maine voters calling on the BEP to use their authority under Maine's Kid-Safe Products Act to replace BPA in baby and toddler food packaging with safer alternatives that are readily available and affordable. In January, every member of Maine's independent Board of Environmental Protection, including four LePage appointees, unanimously adopted the citizen-initiated rule to prohibit the sale of infant formula cans and baby food jars containing BPA.
"Since safer alternatives are widely available, not one more child should be needlessly exposed to BPA in their food," said Emily Figdor, Director of Environment Maine and a mother of two from Portland. "The good news is that much of the baby food on store shelves already comes in BPA-free packaging. This rule will help get BPA out of the rest of baby foods and make sure all alternative packaging is truly safer."
"A growing number of leading companies have demonstrated that phasing out BPA is an economically feasible means of addressing consumer and shareholder concerns about the risks of this hazardous chemical," said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. "But more needs to be done to shift the market away from BPA in canned foods and ensure that public health is not pushed to the back shelf."
Expressing frustration that they couldn't do more to protect children's health, the Board of Environmental Protection dropped the proposed ban on BPA in canned toddler food, citing a loophole in current law that leaves pregnant women and children over age three unprotected from toxic chemicals in their food. Health advocates asked the committee to amend the bill to add back canned foods like Campbell's Dora the Explorer soup that are branded with images of
cartoon characters that market to preschoolers.
"If the Legislature adopts the BPA rule as is, they'll be leaving older children and pregnant women unprotected/' said Abby King with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "A loophole in the current law creates a dangerous and arbitrary line for determining which kids will be protected from toxic chemicals in their food and which ones won't. This issue needs to be rectified."
Senator Seth Goodall (D-Richmond) has introduced legislation that would close the food packaging loophole and allow for an eventual phase-out of BPA from all canned food. Canned food is considered the greatest source of BPA exposure for young children and pregnant women. It is estimated that overall BPA exposure could be reduced by two thirds if food packaging were BPA-free.
The public hearing for Goodall's bill, LP 1181, has been set for 1pm on Thursday, April 11th, also in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine will be hosting a press conference on Thursday morning, which will include a 20-foot inflatable duck and a rally on the steps of the Hall of Flags. BPA is a known hormone disruptor that has also been linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, learning disabilities, male infertility, and early puberty in girls. Young children are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaks from the inner lining of canned foods, including infant formula, and the metal lids of glass jars, including baby food.
"Although I will never know what caused my son's sensory challenges, many scientific studies show that exposure to BPA is linked to learning and behavioral disabilities," stated Tracy Gregoire, mother of a three-year-old with special needs. "Getting BPA out of our food will save Maine families like mine the anguish and it will also reduce the education and health care costs associated with these life-long disabilities."
In 2011, lawmakers overwhelmingly supported getting BPA out of plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, despite the Governor's vocal and headline-grabbing opposition that included his famously-inaccurate "little beards" comment. The Maine Legislature upheld that BPA rule by a combined vote of 180 to 3, and the Governor allowed it to become law without his signature.
"The Governor is an outlier on this," stated Kathy Kilrain del Rio, Communications Coordinator for the Maine Women's Policy Center. "We know there is overwhelming bipartisan support and momentum for protecting children from the dangers of BPA. We're confident the Maine Legislature will continue to stand up for Maine kids and families." Even if the rule is passed by the Legislature, it could still be vetoed by Governor LePage - a fact not lost on several of the speakers. Mike Belliveau, Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center stated, "Protecting babies from the hormone havoc of BPA is just common sense. The Governor's relentless opposition and disregard for the science pose a real threat to children's health. Maine moms won't stand for a veto of the BPA rule by the Governor, and the Legislature shouldn't either."
Megan Rice, a mother of two from Belgrade, warned against efforts by the chemical industry to block passage of the rule. Rice stated, "The tobacco industry spent years putting our kids in harm's way while they denied the science and opposed common sense protections. Let's not let the chemical industry get away with the same thing. It's time for action. It's time to get BPA out of our children's food."